I52 THE GAY GENIUS
One of the poems that got him into trouble was a subtle crack he
made at the ruling authorities, by implication comparing them to owls.
He was visiting the district of Linan in the company of Chou Pin.
According to the story told later at Su's trial, a magistrate of Linan had
drafted a proposal for simplifying the collection of the draft exemption
tax. This magistrate had come up to Hangchow with his proposal, and
now, returned home, told Su Tungpo his story.
"I was driven out by the owl," the magistrate said.
"What do you mean?" asked Su Tungpo, and the magistrate told
him how he had gone to the city with the plan and submitted it to a
deputy tax commissioner, and how the latter had him escorted out of
the city under armed guards. So Tungpo asked'to see his proposal and
found that he had suggested a good simple system of collection.
"What do you mean by the owl?" asked Su Tungpo, and the
magistrate replied: ^
"Well, this is a popular fable. One day a swallow and a bat were
having a dispute. The swallow held that the sunrise was the beginning
of the day, while the bat argued that sundown was the beginning. As
they could not decide the matter, they went to ask the opinion of the
wise phoenix. On the way, however, they met a bird who said to them:
We haven't seen the phcenix lately. Some say he is on leave and some
say he is taking a long nap. At present the owl is taking over the
position in his stead. So there is no use your going to consult that
In his poem written on this occasion, addressed to his companion
Chou Pin, he said in a tone of resignation and great despondency:
'Tor years I have been going through a struggle,
And now I gradually feel the Master prevails.
I want to find a farm of five acres,
And clear all vexations from my breast. . . .
I have not yet been able to go my way,
But who will listen when I try to persuade?
I have always admired the upright ancients,
And I shall leave the rest to heaven's will, . . .
Why fallow the example of the swallow and the bat,
And argue about the beginning of the day?"
In time, lines like these were carefully collected and scrutinized by
those in power. There was no preaching of rebellion, no overt criticism,
no declamation against those in authority. But such lines have the
power of mosquito bitps. They sting, they irritate, and they annoy; and
iŁ there are too many bites, they can thoroughly ruin one's sleep for the
night. It was particularly annoying to have these poems published bv